Alarm Bells Ringing in Olympic Construction Zone

AP Photo/Luca Bruno
AP Photo/Luca Bruno

John Pye, The Associated Press, February 3, 2014

KRASNAYA POLYANA, Russia (AP) — Construction workers ignored the blaring alarm in Gorki Plaza on Sunday, tuning out the loud hoot-hoot-hoot and automated voice that urged guests to evacuate.

That was a fire drill — a requirement ahead of building approval — but alarm bells of a more figurative kind are ringing louder and louder for the organizers of the Sochi Olympics.

It's almost impossible to pin down how many hotels will be finished ahead of the Winter Games, which officially open Friday.

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Gorki Plaza was always supposed to be a hive of activity, an accommodation and transport hub for thousands of visitors to Olympic venues in the mountains above Sochi. It just wasn't supposed to be a hive of building activity this late. And that has Olympic leaders worried.

IOC President Thomas Bach was given a status update on accommodation by local organizers at an executive board meeting Sunday.

"There is a great confidence and great satisfaction with what we have seen here," Bach said. "Of course, ... always before the games, we have some issues to be addressed. We received information that this will be addressed, but in general for the athletes the stage is set for great performances, both with regards to the villages and with regards to the sports facilities."

But the accommodation situation for non-athletes threatened to become a major embarrassment for organizers when some Olympic-accredited people were turned away in recent days from unfinished hotels, or checked into unfinished rooms.

Organizers estimate that thousands of media will be arriving in Sochi on Monday. About 11,000 overall are expected to be covering Russia's first Winter Games. Spectators are expected to flood in later in the week.

IOC spokesman Mark Adams conceded there were hotels that weren't finished.

"That doesn't mean they're empty shells with no beds or whatever," he said, adding that 41,000 rooms were being provided for the Sochi Games and, of those, 20,000 were brand new.

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"I also understand not a single person has gone without a room," he said. "All round, I think I can assure you that people will get the rooms they need."

Local organizers said Saturday that only six of the nine media hotels in the mountain cluster were finished, and gave a timetable Sunday for others to be opened this week.

"Ninety-seven percent of these rooms are already welcoming guests and the remainder are currently undergoing final testing before being available for visitors before the games starts," organizers said.

Oleg Soloshchansky, president of the Inteco company responsible for construction of buildings at "Level +960" above Gorki Plaza, was confident the work would be finished on the hotels allocated for the Olympics.

"The hotels are ready from 90 to 100 percent," he told The Associated Press as he surveyed a construction zone where huge excavating machines were digging and scraping the muddy ground.

Soloshchansky attributed the problems to a 10-day delay because of rain. In the meantime, he's getting daily inspection visits from the IOC, the construction ministry and the local organizing committee. There has also been a helicopter hovering to take images to map progress.

"We have three days and three nights and we are now cleaning rooms of furniture packaging and also we have some paving to be rearranged," Soloshchansky said. "It sagged after the rain."

The hotels were already 95 percent booked, he said.

"I'm not fully satisfied, it's true," Soloshchansky said. "Frankly speaking, it was a tough situation here, but we are set to cordially meet our guests."

Back in Gorki Plaza, workers were ripping up paving stones and replacing them. Others were painting and fitting cabinets and kitchens in some apartments that likely won't be finished ahead of the games. Building debris was piled on roads, both in the plaza and in nearby alleys protected by security guards.

Even in one of the finished hotels, there were rooms filled with wide-screen TVs and other accessories still in boxes.

Further confusing matters in Gorki Plaza was the fact that some hotels seem to have the same or similar names.

Dozens of the "Look of the Games" signs were still wrapped in plastic and either stacked against a doorway or lying on the sidewalk on Estonskaya Street late Sunday.

The Russian government has spent $51 billion on the Olympics in the hopes of turning the Black Sea summer resort into a year-round tourism destination.

Soloshchansky didn't want to compare Sochi organizers with others who have cut it close before events, but he did have a Russian expression to explain why he could still sleep despite all the pressure.

"In Russia, we say, 'We are slow to harness, but we are fast to ride,'" he said.


AP Sports Writer Stephen Wilson in Sochi and Associated Press writer Leonid Chizhov in Krasnaya Polyana contributed to this report.